Aaron Cook and Jeff Francis: My 2010 Expectation

One of the biggest points of discussion from Rockies fans and people attempting to eschew the Rockies' success is the pitching staff. Analysts from the mainstream media as well as neighboring blogs have all recognized the big season that Jason Marquis had, and thereby considered him a linchpin for the Rockies' pitching staff. In a manner of speaking, they're correct, but it seems that they're making the assumptions that: 1.Marquis will go forward and produce at the same level that he did in Colorado; 2. Everybody on the Rockies' staff will perform exactly as they did in 2009, which is also a flawed expectation.

Let's address issue #1 before digging into OUR pitching staff. There are two ways to look at Jason Marquis and how he should be expected to pitch in 2010. The first is the "Jason Marquis Career Renaissance" look going forward. Marquis worked very hard with Rockies' pitching coach Bob Apodaca during the 2008-2009 offseason/Spring Training to re-develop his sinker, and it was noticed by the opposition. Additionally, Marquis has acquiesced to the mindset that he isn't an Ace pitcher, but he can still help a club, not only on the mound, but in mentoring their young players, which is part of the reason why he moved on to Washington.

Issue #2, however, is the once that I lean on, and that issue is that Marquis just isn't that good of a pitcher. He's a decent mid-rotation starter, which is based almost entirely on longevity, but I will acknowledge that his fixed sinker will continue to provide value for Washington. However, with a pitch as fundamental as a sinking fastball, it's going to throw batters off for awhile. Suddenly having a renewed faith in one's primary pitch and its effectiveness might have given Marquis a "second rookie year", in the sense that he's going to have a somewhat new approach to his game. I'm not saying he's revamped things so much that he's TOTALLY a new pitcher, but going from a 95-mph straightball and trouble locating it to a 92-mph fastball with enough sinking action to put him as the 3rd most extreme groundballer in the majors (behind Pineiro and Derek Lowe). But what typically happens after rookie years?

My point isn't meant to be that Marquis is terrible, but I see him regressing to his career averages and his sinker being less effective (both based on batter familiarity and distance from Apodaca), and honestly, I would expect to see him as roughly a 2-win pitcher, and not much more. We'll see if his improved control and new-found home run suppression can carry into the NL East.

So moving forward, where do we need our pitching staff to perform at? Well, as it's been said, we need to have some combination of 2010 Francis and 2010 Cook to equal 2009 Marquis and 2009 Cook.

Click past the jump and we'll take a look at just what is to be expected of the remnants of the Gen-R pitching staff.

2009 Marquis was a 3.8-win pitcher, and 2009 Cook was worth 1.9 wins. Now, Cook showed up looking like a spring cliché, with shaggy hair and 20lbs missing entirely. As has been mention, last time he arrived like this was in 2008, when he posted career-high numbers that took the ultimate form of a 4.7 WAR. His 3.96 ERA lists among the top-5 All-Time for the Rockies, and his 3.76 FIP (4.06 xFIP) back up those numbers.

Francis, on the other hand, is somewhat of a wild card, what with the surgery and excellent recovery and whatnot. Most recently, he posted 1.6 WAR while injured, following up a 4.1 WAR season that led us to the World Series.

So what do we really need from these guys to have them pick up their share of the rotation's slack? Well, just doing the basic math, we need 5.7 WAR from Cook and Francis (combined) to account for Marquis' and Cook's production in 2009. If we round that to a nice 6 wins, I'd expect that'd be satisfactory to everyone. I'm envisioning Cook returning to 2008 form, and Francis just being able to pitch a season. That said, let's assign 4 wins to Cookie, and 2 wins to Francis.

So for starters, I've done a little backward math (at times fuzzy) to go from the WAR we need from Cook/Francis back to the IP and FIP/ERA we need from them.

Over the course of Cook's career as a full-time starter, he's only averaged 24 starts per season. We'll call this Limited Action. 24 starts from Cook will put him on the mound for 153.2 innings, and if he's to match that 4.0 win watermark we're looking for, he's going to need to be pitching at a 3.55 FIP/ERA level. Something tells me this isn't entirely plausible.

So let's average out his starts in a not-life-threatening-embolism year. He's averaged 29 starts over the past 4 years, limited by strained obliques, hurt feet, and other little injury oddities. At a level of 29GS (185.2IP), Cook's gonna need to crack that 4.00 FIP/ERA barrier and finish somewhere around a 3.92 FIP/ERA. We'll dub this the Realistic.

What if Cook stays away from nailguns and wild animals and ATVs and witch doctors and such, and can be a workhorsing stud muffin. 34 starts would put Cook at a heroic 217.2IP, and he'll need to post a 4.17 FIP/ERA to match that. Call this the WorkHorse.

Finally, what if everyone goes right? What if they sacrifice the live chicken, and keep Cook away from black cats and from walking under ladders? What if everything just dominates and Cook owns the season? Combining the Workhorse and the Limited Action to create the Heroic, a 3.55 FIP/ERA and 217.2 IP, Cook would pretty much pick up the slack for both himself and Francis, and be overlooked for the CY after posting 5.7 WAR for the season.

Honestly, at this point in his career, I'd argue that somewhere between the Workhorse and the Realistic are what we're going to see out of Cook. Low-4 FIP/ERA, 200IP, 32GS, and yes, I think he can realistically surpass Marquis' 3.8 WAR. Not phenomenally, but right around 4 WAR, give or take a shred.

FIP/ERA

IP

WAR

Limited Action

3.55

153.2

4

Workhorse

4.17

217.2

4

Realistic

3.92

185.2

4

Heroic

3.55

217.2

5.7

Now the next question we have is Francis. We have no idea what to expect from him, how much we should baby him, or if he's even ready to be effective. The good news is that we don't need a lot from him, only to be a slightly-below-average starter.

Let's start out by babying him. Call this Cautious. Say we cut him off at....uhhh...23 starts. Yeah, that works, 23 starts, that's a nice arbitrary number and then we let The Machine or Rogers or Redding or somebody take that rotation slot. This only has Francis pitching 136IP, and to make that 2.0 WAR, he'll need a 4.52 FIP/ERA. Basically, his career average over those 136IP.

So what if he's healthy, but we want to limit his in-game pitching to, say, 5IP/start, and let him make...27 starts. Call this one Babying. Amusingly enough, the numbers are pretty much the same, 4.54 FIP/ERA, 135 IP, wheeeee.

Now, O'Dowd pretty much said that they thought 175IP was reasonable for Francis, surgery and all. Reasonable. OK, let's bump him back to his typical 6 innings per game and a full complement of starts. With 179.2 IP over 30 starts (which is incidentally his career average), Francis will only need a 4.78 FIP/ERA to make that 2.0 WAR we're hoping for.

But what if Francis harnessed the powers of the universe during his rehab? What if he found the Higgs Boson and had it implanted in his arm and thereby gained the healing powers that come with the creation of the universe? What if he could make all 34 starts we'd love to see AND pitch at a 4.3 FIP/ERA level? We'll call this one Supernatural, and he'd rack up 215IP and hand us a lovely 4.6 WAR and then take his wife and child in his arms and fly away into the sunset, arguably to Canada. Which makes no sense.

FIP/ERA

IP

WAR

Cautious

4.52

136

2

Babying

4.54

135

2

Reasonable

4.78

179.2

2

Supernatural

4.3

200

4.6

So what's the point in all of this? Well, the idea is that we need our current staff to pick it up a bit to make up for past production. Cook will need to reach down and find what mojo he had in 2008, or at least 2006, and muster up enough groundballing to make his sinker the effective pitch it's always been. Believe me, when his HR/9 jumped up above 1.00 this past season, I got downright scared. He didn't strike out or walk any abnormal amounts of guys, but his sinker clearly wasn't. Get that fixed, Cookie, and then let's rock some faces off.

As for Francis, it's tough to say we have "expectations" of him, given that he may not be ready come the beginning of the season. He doesn't have that big of a workload to shoulder, which makes sense, given the fact that he's matching Cook's oft-injured 2009 campaign. 2 WAR is a point that Francis can get to without much absurd effort or risk. Either he's lights out and can be afforded a longer string, or he struggles but stays healthy, there are a lot of routes to go to get to 2.0 WAR.

With that, I'll wrap up CR for this week. We'll get back to the All-Time Rockies at some point here, but I've been toying with this for awhile now and wanted to get it off of my chest. Hurray for pitching, hurray for recovery stories, and hurray for the Rockies!

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